The XDJ-RX3 is a worthy replacement for the XDJ-RX2, bringing a bigger screen, faster loading of tracks, much easier browsing, many usability improvements, and the Pioneer DJ look, feel and workflow that made its predecessor so popular. It has got better effects than any other standalone DJ unit, but feels a bit limited in other areas – it offers no cloud music functions, for instance, and we would like to have seen Pioneer DJ’s excellent key sync incorporated from its CDJ-3000 players.
First Impressions / Setting up
Pioneer DJ’s XDJ-RX3 is a direct replacement for the popular XDJ-RX2 standalone DJ system, and so it is not surprising that it looks and feels similar to its predecessor upon unboxing. The biggest differences you notice immediately are the fantastic 10.1″ touchscreen, and the physical library controls, that have been moved to an inevitably slightly ugly place to the right of the touchscreen. Fair enough though – it lets the unit have that great big screen.
Apart from that it is business as usual – this is a two-channel system with a two-channel mixer, although the mixer now has all six Color FX that you get on the flagship DJM-900NXS2 mixer, as well as all 14 Beat FX – a nice upgrade.
On closer inspection there is a subtle but nice improvement to the finish of the top of the unit, which is apparently “sandblasted aluminium” – it’s definitely smart-looking. And, crucially I am sure for many, there is a “Serato” logo – yes, this will operate not only as a standalone DJ controller with Rekordbox-analysed music player via USB, but also as a software controller, both for Rekordbox (it is “hardware unlock for the Core version of that software) and for Serato. Smart move. That said, at the time of writing, Serato is a “forthcoming” feature – it is due in “early 2022”.
Upon switching on, Rekordbox loads as usual, although this time it is onto that relatively huge touchscreen. Plug in a USB drive containing Rekordbox-analysed music (done via the Rekordbox laptop software), and the Source button flashes; you tap that and select the source you want to play from, and you’re off and running.
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It is still essentially an XDJ-RX2, so do read our Pioneer DJ XDJ-RX2 review if you’re not familiar with the concept or how that unit works. In this review, we’re concentrating on the changes more than anything else.
First, the good news. The screen is big, bright, and a huge improvement on the relatively tiny screen on the other Pioneer DJ standalone all-in-ones to date. It can, because of this size and higher resolution, display loads more info – something that is taken full advantage of.
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However, it is not multi-touch, and I dearly wanted to pinch and zoom to adjust the waveforms, and swipe vertically to jump through playlists – you have to use the browse knob to do these things. And, the waveforms are surprisingly blockly when you zoom in – limitations of the graphics on the chip, I’d guess.
Overall, though, it’s a worthy improvement on its predecessor – just don’t expect it to act like a phone or tablet screen.
Inputs and outputs
It has the full range of inputs and outputs you’d expect from a device aimed at semi-pro and pro uses: Round the front are 1/8″ and 1/4″ headphones inputs, then round the back the two dual XLR/TS mic inputs, RCA inputs for 2 x phono, 2 x line, 1 x aux, an 1/8″ “portable [device]” input, earth pole, and booth (TRS) and master (XLR and RCA) outputs, plus the computer USB. On the top are two USB sockets for USB flash drives.
Note there is no Pro Link/Ethernet, and so if you want to plug CDJs in, for instance, you’ll be using them simply to play audio into the unit. And of course as it has only a two-channel mixer, you’ll be using the switches on the mixer to switch between your inputs.
The decks, pads and new FX
The decks are in the standard Pioneer DJ layout, which is a good thing. The jogs are the same smaller size found on the XDJ-RX2 – and with even the “budget” DDJ-FLX6 getting “big” jogs, they now look a little out of place on a two grand unit – but it does help to keep the size down I suppose. Anyway, they work fine, they have a tension adjust control, and they get the round artwork displays from the CDJ-3000s, so good overall.
The layout is the same hybrid design found on previous standalones, with 4 x 2 pads under the jogwheel (as opposed to the 8 x 1 pads over it on the CDJ-3000s), and the bright RGB pads are good to use. Notable functions include Gate Cue (controller-style cueing), a triplet-friendly variant on Beat Loop, and brand-new “Release FX”, giving options for stopping a track to quick-mix into something else: Echo Out, backspins, vinyl stops and so on are all here, and I particularly liked the pseudo DJ build-up effect.
It’s basically the good old look and feel of the DJM-900NXS2 mixer, which is a good thing. Obviously it’s only two channels, but apart from that, you get all six Sound Color FX, every single one of the Beat FX (plus the X-pad, replicated on the touchscreen), excellent metering for both cues and master, the ability to preview tracks via the touchscreen without loading them, crossfader adjust… all you need. You can even adjust the upfader curves, which happens on the Shortcuts page on screen, along with other mixer functions.
The crossfader feels great – light and buttery, slightly damped at each end, and the upfaders have the authentic Pioneer feel with just the right amount of resistance.
Other notable features
There are lots of other little changes, many are firsts for the XDJ-RX3 (again you should definitely read our Pioneer DJ XDJ-RX2 review and indeed our Pioneer DJ CDJ-3000 review to get up on some of the other features in this unit, if you’re not familiar with those two devices).
We have mentioned most in the text, but we also liked:
- The countdown timer – great for timing your DJ sets without needing to continually whip your phone out
- The Beat FX Bank – you can select four favourite Beat FX and have them show on your touchscreen
- The Playlist Bank – you can select four favourite playlists, and get quick access to them in the library
- The Shortcuts menu – lots of easy access to things you may use a lot, like the aforementioned upfader curves, deck time/elapsed, auto cue, deck lock, waveform colours (this unit has three-colour frequency band waveforms as a new option), mono split for headphones…
There are some omissions, some of which we find a bit odd. Here are the more important ones:
- We dearly wished they’d included key shifting, because the CDJ-3000 implementation is excellent and it is a creative block not to have it on a DJ system nowadays, in our book
- There is no DVS – You’d need to go for the XDJ-XZ to get that (and put up with the inferior speed and screen size)
- It probably won’t be cloud compatible in the future – Rekordbox has got cloud music baked in nowadays, and we’re holding out hope it’ll come to the CDJ-3000s, but there’s no Ethernet port on this, so it won’t come for this (unless they’ve hidden a WiFi chip in it, of course)
What it’s like to use
None of this should detract from the fact that this is an update of a very popular unit. Like the XDJ-RX2, it is great to use, but now it feels snappier, and really benefits from that bigger screen. The extra FX are cool, the library functions are heaps better, and some of the new features are immediately useful (we liked the ability to “favourite” four playlists, particularly).
Sound quality is fine – Pioneer DJ says it has been tuned slightly to remove a bit of harshness over the XDJ-RX2, and that its sits just slightly below the XDJ-RZ and the CDJ-3000 in the sound quality specs.
We didn’t miss bigger jogwheels, but some might. We did miss key shift – and of course, some won’t.
One little addition that we grew to like was the performance pad status strip on the touchscreen, which shows what a pad will do before you hit it – a useful check to have.
The XDJ-RX3 is a clear improvement over the XDJ-RX2. A bigger screen and faster processor make it much more fun to DJ on. But it is important to see it as just what it is – a successor in a range of devices aimed at semi-pros, who maybe don’t want or need all the features of the CDJ/DJM flagship system, or indeed the XDJ-XZ (here’s our Pioneer DJ XDJ-XZ review).
Which is why one thing is certain: Pioneer DJ screamingly needs to update the XDJ-XZ now, because in many ways, the XDJ-RX3 is superior – yet in others, it has notable omissions. There’s now an imbalance in the range, and deciding between the two will be even more difficult for DJs.
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For DJs who play clubs on Pioneer DJ gear and want a Pioneer look and feel at home, this is a good fit (as long as they don’t use key shift, take that as read in all these scenarios). For those who one day want to play in clubs and want to practise on a system that’s close, this could work too.
And indeed for small venues where they can’t or don’t want to buy a “pro” separates system, for space or budget reasons, this could fit the bill. It is certainly a workhorse, well built like its brethren and I have no reason to believe it won’t be just as reliable.
Will Pioneer DJ ever make an all-singing, all-dancing, all-in-one, though? After all, Engine DJ 2.0 – the software that runs hardware from Numark and Denon DJ – delivers features not available on this unit, and the most expensive, four-channel, cloud-enabled Engine DJ unit costs less that this – the cheapest Engine DJ standalone unit only costs $600!
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I’d love to see an XDJ-XZ2 that packs all the power of the CDJ-3000s and DJM-900NXS2 plus some next-gen cloud features into an all-in-one… but I’d also like to see a two-channel version of that device.
This isn’t it. What this is, though, is all the best bits of the hugely popular XDJ-RX2, with a bigger screen, a faster processor, promised additional Serato compatibility, and more great FX. On that basis, it’ll probably sell loads.